The title of this sermon and on the front of your bulletins was chosen on last Monday, before I started working on it. And from a first reading of the scripture, it seems to be a pretty good take on the scripture. The harvest depends on the quality of the soil- on where God’s word falls on our hard hearts, or our shallow hearts, or our weed-choked hearts. I’ve preached that sermon before as a matter of fact, and it was a pretty good sermon!
But my Sainted Husband challenged me on this traditional interpretation this past week. He said, “No, Nansi; the harvest doesn’t depend on the soil; the harvest depends on God. And God doesn’t give up!” I hate to admit that my spouse is right, but… he is. Soil is important, but even more important is the fact that the Sower never gives up.
Things were going badly for the Union Forces in the Civil War. During the first day’s fight at the Battle of Shiloh, Ulysses Grant’s army was defeated badly. There at midnight, standing in the rain, General Sherman spoke to Grant. “Our men can’t take it; we’ll have to retreat at dawn.” Grant bit his cigar and said, “We’ll beat ‘em in the morning.” Grant hung on, waiting for Buell and Wallace to reinforce him, refusing to think of retreat. He made his counter-attack the second day, and ended up winning one of the most important victories of the whole Civil War. Why? Because he would not give up.
The Parable of the Sower which Jesus taught had much the same point; God is not going to give up; God is going to win. That was an important message for Jesus. He began His ministry in the usual way: teaching in the synagogues. Soon, opposition developed from the established religious leaders. They barred Him from the synagogues; they accused Him of heresy; they charged Him with drunkenness and consorting with prostitutes.
In the face of this hostility, people began to desert Jesus. But He persisted. He started preaching outdoors in the Galilean countryside. He appealed to the common people with stories they could understand, and He started gaining ground. The crowds grew and grew until the groundswell of support was so strong that Jesus decided to enter Jerusalem itself. And the rest is history.
But let’s go back to when Jesus first began preaching in the countryside. It was then, at the beginning, that He first preached the Parable of the Sower. What He described was what normally happened on the farm, and still happens today in Galilee. There in the rocky, infertile soil of Palestine, they sowed their seed by hand- not with farm machinery like we do. It was the most efficient was to broadcast seed over an entire field.
Imagine with me that Jesus is talking to a group of farmers on a warm day like yesterday. They ask Jesus why He persists in His teaching as every day more people are rejecting Him. He is failing, and they say to Jesus that maybe it’s God’s will that He fail. Maybe God is trying to tell Him something! Jesus looks up as He considers a response, and there on the hillside is a farmer sowing seed in a rocky field. He looks back to the people listening to Him. To what shall I compare My ministry?” He begins.
Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil wasn’t deep, and the sun withered its shallow roots. Still other seed fell among thorns, which grew and choked out the grain. (And here comes the climax…) But some seed fell on good soil, and it brought forth grain yielding 30 and 60 and 100-fold. Now that’s the way it is, isn’t it? And the crowd of farmers nod, “Yes, that’s what we do every spring.”
Jesus had made His point. This is the point: If the sower of ordinary seed does not become discouraged by losses, but persists with the hope of an abundant harvest, how much more should I persist in setting forth the Kingdom of God?
Losses of seed on hard soil, on rocky soil, on thorny soil- do not deter a sower. The sower who hopes for an abundant harvest persists in their work. We don’t judge a sower by what doesn’t grow, but by the harvest.
Much of the sower’s labor seems futile to us, but to the farmer, it’s what is done to achieve an abundant harvest. Keep sowing! Jesus’ ministry was facing opposition and failure, but He kept sowing the word of God’s Kingdom, assured that as long as He kept sowing, God was going to win. The Kingdom would come.
That’s an important message for us, too. In our culture, we look for immediate gratification, instant success, increasing quarterly profits. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
No, the great issues of our day will not be won in a day. And for those of us laboring in God’s fields, we must not give up hope. There’s a wonderful hymn that goes, God is working God’s purpose out. That is our blessed assurance, that in the end, God is going to win. Our job is to keep sowing in hope and persistence until God brings forth the harvest.
Dec. 31, 1813, a dejected Scottish pastor wrote in his diary, “This last year has been a failure. I have brought only one soul to Christ: little David Livingston.” Little David Livingston, the pioneer medical missionary, inventor, reformer and anti-slavery crusader. That Scottish pastor never lived to see the work of his life come to fruition; but he’s the one who sowed the seed. And we might neither. But that’s not our concern; our concern is to keep sowing.
Dick, my Sainted Husband, was a rotten little wretch as a boy in Sunday School. His class brought strong-willed church school teachers to tears, they were such miserable little terrors. But those teachers stuck with him. We went back to his boyhood church a couple years ago, and found that from his little class of hellions, they produced one priest, two council presidents, 2 Council members and 3 choir members. The seeds that those teachers planted on what was obviously hard, rocky and weedy soil… TOOK!
What about us? The area around us is growing like crazy. By all rights, we should be growing like crazy. But we’re not. What’s up? We’re sowing seeds: We deliver meals to homebound in the community. We open our church to the homeless. We do weddings for LGBT couples who can’t find a church to marry them. We have Bible studies and (I think) lively and inclusive worship. We extend a warm welcome to visitors. We have community forums open to the public. But we’re not growing. If we didn’t know better, we might start getting discouraged!
But we DO know better. We know that God is working God’s purpose out, that God has the end game. All that is required of us is the faithfulness to keep sowing seeds.
Dick and I have a granddaughter who was adopted from Romania. That could happen because of one local church pastor. The fall of the brutal Ceausescu regime was caused by one local church pastor, who wouldn’t give up, who kept sowing seeds.
In a TV interview in the summer of 1989, Rev. Lazlo Tokes spoke out against Ceausescu’s plan of “systemization.” That plan called for the destruction of 8,000 villages and the forced relocation of over 50,000 ethnic Hungarians. Because of his stand, Tokes’ ration book was taken from him and he was unable to buy bread, meat or fuel. When congregation members brought food, the secret police harassed them. His phone was turned off. From time to time it was turned on just long enough for the police to make threatening calls.
But they couldn’t make Tokes sign a retraction. So in Nov. 1989, they broke into his home and beat him and his pregnant wife. He was rescued when two friends happened in and drove off the attackers. But still he wouldn’t give up.
His Bishop, Lazlo Papp, was a puppet of the communist regime, personally appointed by Ceausescu. The Bishop tried to force him to another church where he would have no friends or allies. But in defiance, Tokes said that unless the elders themselves voted him out, he would not leave. And with that, the secret police rounded up the elders, executed the chief elder, and at gunpoint made the rest of them vote out their pastor.
When news of this spread, a human chain of church members and supporters gathered around the Tokes home to protect the pastor and his family. They brought their children and placed them in front of the crowd in the belief that surely the soldiers would not harm the children.
When the Army refused to fire on the crowd, the secret police killed the officers-in-charge, and then opened fire on the crowd, mowing down the row of children as well as their parents and neighbors. Over 2,000 were killed on that day. Lazlo Tokes was taken into custody. But as the news of the massacre spread, Romanians throughout the country joined in a revolution that ended Ceausescu’s tyranny.
Lazlo Tokes was a poor preacher and was considered to be a failed pastor… but he persisted in sowing. Who would have believed that the seed he sowed would spark a revolution in the most repressive country in Eastern Europe? But when we sow the seed, God will reap the harvest. And in the end, God is going to win.
Dear friends, what is required of us is the courage to keep sowing the seed of God’s Kingdom. While others shrug their shoulders and say “what’s the use,” we will stand up for those too vulnerable to stand up for themselves.Why? Because the Parable of the Sower challenges us to keep sowing. Why? Because God is going to win!
While others raise eyebrows, we will speak out for the rights of gays and lesbians. Why? Because the Parable of the Sower challenges us to keep sowing. Why? Because God is going to win!
While our legislators complain about the cost of education, we will work for better schools for our children. Why? Because the Parable of the Sower challenges us to keep sowing. Why? Because God is going to win!
While others look at climate change and say, it’s too late to make a difference, we will recycle and reuse, and write our legislators to keep our air and water clean. Why? Because the Parable of the Sower challenges us to keep sowing. Why? Because God is going to win!
And when others say, “we have already tried that and it didn’t work,” we will persist in opening our arms to young and old, to rich and poor, to the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst. Why? Because the Parable of the Sower challenges us to keep sowing. Why? Because God is going to win!
We who live for God’s Kingdom don’t live as those without hope. We live as the farmer who, casting the seed upon the ground, knows that the Giver of the Harvest will bring forth far more abundantly than all that we can hope for or imagine.
In the Name of the One who loves us, and will never let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for July 16, 2017 MATTHEW 13:1-9, 18-23
Jesus was telling a story to a group of people, and He said, “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of hit fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted up quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly as it had grown. Some seed fell in the weeds. As it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good soil and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. Are you listening to this? Really listening? …Study this story of the farmer planting seed. The seed that is cast on the road- this is the person who hears news of God’s kingdom and doesn’t take it in. The Word just sits there on the surface. And so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of the person’s heart. The seed that is cast in gravel- this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. And then there is the seed cast on good soil; this is the person who hears and treasures the promise of the Kingdom deep within themselves. These are the ones who produce a harvest beyond wildest dreams.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.